A Zwicky of flavour physics

Thanks to Google Alerts, yesterday I learned about the theoretical physicist Roman Zwicky — someone to add to the great book of Zwickys on this blog. His webpage photo:

His Edinburgh webpage lists his research areas as: Collider Physics, Flavour Physics, Fundamental Theory. Yes, forbiddingly technical, but then his pages are clearly intended for fellow physicists, not for random people, even those with scientific interests.

Beyond telling us that he’s a Swiss national, natively German-speaking, his pages are sternly professional, outlining his career and current research interests. Bare bones:

1999: Diploma in Theoretical Physics from the Federal Institute of Technology Zürich (ETH) (Further education EPFL [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne] and Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh)

2003: PhD, University of Zürich, Advisors Daniel Wyler and Luis Álvarez-Gaumé

Then postdocs at Minnesota, Durham, and Edinburgh. And academic appointments:

2009 – 2012: Lecturer, School of Physics & Astronomy, the University of Southampton

2009 – 2014: Adjunct Professor, CP³-Origins, University of Southern Denmark [Centre for Cosmology and Particle Physics Phenomenology – CP³-Origins, established by the Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF) and opened on the 1st of September 2009 at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense.]

2012 – present: Reader, School of Physics & Astronomy, Edinburgh University

Note that his career has taken him (so far) to Zürich, Lausanne, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Durham, Southampton, Odense, and Edinburgh. That’s a lot of moving around, but if you’re going to establish yourself in one of the natural or social sciences these days, you’ve got to go where the research groups, labs, and funding are. Needless to say, in the circumstances it’s hard to have anything like a steady personal life, so the system tends to favor footloose, intellectually intense, ambitious young men. (I know nothing about RZ’s personal life, so I can’t say how much of this depicts him, beyond his being a young man.)

A note on the flavour in Flavour Physics, from Wikipedia:

In particle physics, flavour or flavor refers to a species of an elementary particle. The Standard Model counts six flavours of quarks and six flavours of leptons. They are conventionally parameterized with flavour quantum numbers that are assigned to all subatomic particles. [This is the world of, among many other things, isospin, strangeness, charm, bottomness / beauty, and topness / truth.]

And a note on RZ’s list of research interests, which many readers might find baffling. Compare this description of my research interests (boiled down from my description on this blog) in the Wikipedia article about me:

A student of Morris Halle at MIT, he has made notable contributions to fields of phonology (half-rhymes), morphology (realizational morphology, rules of referral), syntax (clitics, construction grammar), interfaces (the Principle of Phonology-Free Syntax), sociolinguistics and American dialectology.

This is probably as opaque to most readers as RZ’s list of research interests is (even though it’s longer), and for similar reasons: if the description is to be at all accurate, it’s going to have to be technical. I could say that I’m interested in pronunciation, words, grammar, conversation, and the way people relate to one another through language, but that would probably mislead people seriously, and anyway it’s way too general to indicate what sorts of questions engage my attention.

RZ is only the second physicist named Zwicky to have come to my attention. For most people, if they recognize the name Zwicky at all, they’re thinking of the astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky: in the world of theoretical physics, Zwicky is a Famous Name (though the world of theoretical physics is pretty small), so Fritz must be a hard act for RZ to follow.

In looking up my own Wikipedia page, I stumbled on a Wikipedia page devoted to my surname. Slightly edited, but in full:

Zwicky is a surname. Notable people with the surname include [in alphabetical order by first name]: Arnold Zwicky, linguist; Fay Zwicky, Australian poet and academic; Fritz Zwicky, astrophysicist who proposed dark matter (objects named after him include Zwicky, a crater on the moon; and 1803 Zwicky, an asteroid); Jan Zwicky, Canadian poet.

I’ve considered getting business cards made up that say:

My name is Zwicky. Arnold Zwicky. Linguist.

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